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A ‘Marvels’ identity crisis

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| November 18, 2023 1:00 AM

Forget Crisis on Infinite Earths. There’s an epidemic of Superhero Fatigue!

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “The Marvels,” might finish its box office run as one of the lowest grossing films in the entire MCU run.

Quality-wise, it’s nowhere near the bottom of the list for the MCU, a franchise that includes true misfires like “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Doctor Stranger and the Multiverse of Madness.” At least “The Marvels” keeps its title short and to the point.

Heck, the movie is short too, running just barely over 100 minutes. You can tell this movie went through a significant edit sometime earlier this year, because the opening 10 minutes speeds through backstory from 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” the “WandaVision” Disney Plus series from 2021 and the “Ms. Marvel” series from 2022 in a frantic effort to get its three leads in the same frame as quickly as possible. Seriously, it’s barely coherent.

(Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury also plays an important role as well, but nothing from this summer’s poorly received “Secret Invasion” series matters to “The Marvels.” Message from Kevin Feige: “You didn’t like it? Forget about it!”)

While these opening moments are a chore, “The Marvels” gets to settle into a fun, largely inconsequential space adventure for the rest of its brief runtime. Avengers-member Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), superpowered astronaut Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and teenage-hero-in-training Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) become entangled in each other’s lives when, after a space-time-rift-dealie, the trio begin swapping locations with each other whenever one of them uses their powers. That means Kamala might get transported into a space station above Earth while Carol lands in Kamala’s bedroom closet. Uh oh! Hijinks!

There’s a generic villain here too… Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn, a Kree warrior who hates Captain Marvel for (reasons) and wants to destroy a few planets as payback and (reasons). Ashton works fine in the role, but nobody will mistake the character for Loki or Thanos. The movie instead skips her development in favor of multiple gags involving Goose, the adorable alien kitty with a surprising appetite.

The body-swapping leads to several energetic fight sequences, all well-staged by director Nia DaCosta (the “Candyman” remake) and her production team. Larson and Parris are passable on their own, but “The Marvels” comes alive in any scene involving Vellani’s Ms. Marvel, an excitable teen who loves her superpowers as much as she idolizes Captain Marvel (she openly admits to copying her code name). For anyone who didn’t watch the Disney Plus miniseries about Khan, “The Marvels” will make you want to give that show a shot. Khan’s family members, played by Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur and Saagar Shaikh, all appear here as well in memorable supporting roles that are enjoyable even without context from the TV show.

In many ways “The Marvels” is the poster child for the unique brokenness of the MCU. It’s a fun movie when it isn’t trying too hard to connect to all the overcomplicated continuity. Unfortunately, being a fun diversion isn’t going to attract the same kind of box office as something more consequential, like “Avengers: Endgame.” But a $200 million production budget requires huge box office!

It also doesn’t help that Disney Plus has several shows now tangled into the MCU, including “Loki,” which has remained a consistent showcase of the MCU’s best qualities. Unfortunately, that show has virtually no connection to “The Marvels.”

While “The Marvels” opened to disappointing box office, social media was nevertheless flooded with positive reactions to the film’s post-credit scenes. Eh. The teases aren’t anything new to this current, bloated phase of the MCU, and nothing from this “multiverse” is promised a payoff (remember when “The Eternals” ended with a Harry Styles cameo?).

Oddly, the recently ended Actor’s strike may offer the MCU a chance to reflect and course-correct, as production delays have bumped many new installments into 2025. Someone at Disney might be offering Robert Downey Jr. a dump truck full of cash soon…

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Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.